Retail Island: an excerpt

The office’s chemistry provided a source of fascination as Robert whiled away many long hours wondering how to fill his time. In between reading around the various reports on strategy he had been passed, and browsing for reports on Medico and their operational methodology, he found himself contemplating the sexual dynamics of the workplace. Something about the office workspace was in itself erotic to a certain extent, albeit in an abstract sense. The crisp, linear clinicality of the office space, despite its open plan, seemed to gleam with erotic potential based around a sense of wrongness and incongruity. Another factor was the austerity of the requisite work attire: this somehow had the opposite of the desired effect, namely in that rather than providing an asexual uniformity, the suit, the skirt, the shirt, the blouse, seemed to accentuate physical aspects in a semi-unobtainable light, likely to create both a mystique and a certain frisson. This was common to many working environs. But while one would likely expect pockets of sexual tension in any office, Medico seemed to practically steam and crackle with pheromones and musk. Perfect strangers engaged in casual acts of frotteurism and Toucherism as Robert noticed colleagues subtly and not-so-subtly making physical contact, brushing past one another in tight spaces, even overtly making excessive and unnecessary contact while passing in corridors. Krafft-Ebing would have had a field day observing the interactions as groins surreptitiously rubbed against buttocks, hands swept against hips and breasts brushed backs and chests.

Ordinarily, these behaviours were merely alluded to in the workplace. At Medico, there was nothing simmering or beneath the surface: the kinks were rampant and rife. Was it something in the air – or the air-conditioning – which provoked this endless demonstration of sexual psychopathies and perverse paraphilias?

Retail Island is available now, published by Clinicality Press.

Cover 2 with text v2 copy

Advertisements

Sellout! Notes Reflecting on Retail Island

I’m at a stage where promoting my writing feels beyond me, and I certainly don’t expect there to be a plethora of reviews and interview requests surrounding the publication of my new book, my first proper work of fiction and first output of any sustained length in a full five years. This explanation, apology, dissective reflection, whatever it may be, is likely to be as close to getting under the skin of a book that developed in two distinct but equally difficult phases as will happen.

Not so long ago in real terms – two years ago, maybe – I was working on three projects simultaneously: a concise but monograph-length academic work on postmodernism, a long, long exploratory novel, and a story that was partly inspired by JG Ballard’s later works, but primarily by the bleak landscape surrounding the office space my job had recently located to. Within a few months of the relocation, the inspiration for the latter work proved to the cause for all three projects to ultimately halt.

The venue depicted in Retail Island as The Orchard Carvery was the place where a number of sections, particularly in the early stages, were written, and the mind-numbing dialogue I found myself transcribing in the name of making art that was credible and close to life proved to be a major contributor to my creativity – such as it was – drying up. Having transferred from a town-centre office close to my home, to an out-of-town office in a location almost identical to that in which the book is set, a full hour’s journey away, I found my mornings starting earlier and my evenings starting later, but, worst of all, whereas I had once had access to pubs and coffee shops where I could write, there was only the carvery as an option for lunchtime writing. Increasingly, I found myself either walking to Asda or WHS Smith or Sainsbury’s for something to do over the course of a 20-minute lunch break, or otherwise failing to leave my desk or taking any kind of break at all.

DSC_0001

At what point does enlisting a friend to help cross the boundary into an abuse of power? This was a question I began asking myself after I received a promotion. Finding myself managing a team, I charged one of my staff with the task of making sure I took a lunch break. Was it wrong? This question would ultimately resurface in the writing, which, in hindsight, only became possible once enforced lunch breaks came into effect. I’m aware that assigning ‘tasks’ is in a different league from parading one’s cock, but in a climate whereby I’ve been subjected to the opinion that performing a piece about suicidal self-loathing without a trigger warning is more or less the same as committing rape, I’ve found myself questioning even my most basic assumptions. Given the graphic nature of some scenes – and again, given events over the course of the last few months – I even began to doubt whether it was right to publish. But the function of art is to challenge. Art that does not challenge is merely entertainment. As such, I make no apologies.

Retail Island is in no way autobiographical. I cannot stress this enough. As with many of my works, it’s an exercise, and an idea taken to its (il)logical conclusion. A serious, Ballard-influenced dystopia set in a parallel present on the one hand, it’s also rich in irony and parody, and is not a work designed to be taken as seriously as its surface suggests. The ‘love interest’ strand is simply my exploiting convention, and the apparent lack of irony in its execution is, in fact, a double irony.

DSC_0169

Initially, my new job made writing impossible. I was exhausted, anxietised, immersed in the job. The new role brought with it a lot more stress and anxiety for minimal financial reward. With lunch breaks resumed, I ultimately returned to writing, both lunchtimes and evenings, and the project which had stalled at around the 3,600 word-mark began to flow, and I chiselled out the remaining 27,000 words in under three months. During this time, I found myself again, at least to an extent. I stepped back from the precipice of being a corporate machine, and reclaimed my mantle of being a writing machine. But the elation of production was tinged with the guilt of advantage.

On resuming writing, I remembered that I tend to work best when I have an audience, someone – or some people – I can sling chunks of text to by email, as they emerge. It’s less about feedback (and certainly not about validation) than about targets in some vague way. Most of the books I’ve written have been produced to tight, self-imposed, constraints. THE PLAGIARIST had to contain 200 pages of text and be completed inside three months. Because. A number of other works evolved because I promised – half-joking – to send various people either a page of text or 500 words a day. Perhaps it ties in with my other jobs, as a corporate whore and a music reviewer: give me a deadline and I’ll work to it. And I’ll deliver. So, on finding a willing recipient for regular instalments of my work-in-progress, Retail Island grew quickly. I spent less time thinking, and more time writing. And more time writing meant less time focusing on the causes and symptoms of my stress and anxiety – something else which fed into the book as the protagonist finds himself increasingly tormented by anxiety.

DSC_0008

This again is something that’s played into my daily life. I’ve suffered from stress and anxiety. I still do. It’s become apparent that a number of people I now manage do, too. I’m increasingly aware of everyday mental health issues, and I’m also one of the worst at dealing with my own. But, moving on…

Retail Island is in no way autobiographical, but the characters and locations are real. Or versions of people and places which are real. I find it easier to write people and places I can visualise.

A large portion of my posts on various websites, including my own, as well as on social media and the sites of lit zines who interviewed or published me in the past have disappeared without trace over the last decade, but those that remain will likely attest that I’ve long advocated the practise of ‘write what you know’. This isn’t a stance against imagination: it’s just that personally, I find it easier to acquire details of a dismal office location while working in a dismal office, and to decorate a low-budget, lowest-common-denominator carvery with detail while frequenting a low-budget, lowest-common-denominator carvery.

For me, life will inevitably inform my art, and it was ever thus. So, for better or worse, a number of characters – a couple in particular – resemble people I know or otherwise work alongside. Their physical characteristics and various quirks, not to mention other details only they will recognise, have been woven into the fabric of their fictional counterparts. This is something I have done throughout my writing career, and no, the subjects aren’t always aware, often for reasons apparent. But Retail Island is a sci-fi novel, at least in the Ballardian sense. As such, the characters are largely ciphers and cardboard cut-outs: they are vehicles and tropes, and not designed to carry emotional resonance. As such, even those based on people I know and like are subject to a distancing, a detachment. These are not the people I know: these are characters, and delineated, two-dimensional ones at that.

To return to the question of power and its abuse: this has long been a topic of interest: having never had any tangible power previously, I’ve always been at the receiving end of any abuse – not ‘bad’ abuse, but the kind of abuse which keeps a person down. I now have a small degree of power. I’m mindful not to abuse it, but there’s always a risk – especially in the current climate – that an off-the-cuff comment could lead to trouble. What do you do?

For the record, I do not work at a pharmaceutical company. But I do work in an office, and like any office, it’s riven with sexual tension. This, paired with the power debate, prompted one of the narrative threads before the whole Harvey Weinstein thing broke. I don’t know if it now looks like I’m trying to cash in on the zeitgeist here, or simply being exploitative. But some of the interactions I have witnessed – none nearly as extreme as the majority of scenes depicted in Retail Island – have made me scrutinise what goes on in workplace environments, and what people accept despite feeling uncomfortable.

DSC_0004

I have a broad guideline for writing: observe everything, then leave 85% out. I adhered to this while composing Retail Island. The omissions provided space for the fiction. And beneath a more serious, genre-sculpted work than my previous efforts, all of the elements which featured previously are still present, just in a different form.

The use of repetition is much more subtle than in several of my previous works: instead of replicating phrases and scenes wholesale, a la Stewart Home (in turn appropriating Richard Allen) the repetitions are more narrative-based, with scenes and ideas seemingly looping, with a view to creating a sense of temporal dislocation. Think Alain Robbe-Grillet, perhaps. In keeping with the way the central character, Robert Ashton, feels he is constantly stonewalled and making no progress, so the narrative continually returns the reader to appoint of stasis and frustration.

As with all of my works, despite possessing a linear narrative and adhering broadly to many literary conventions, genre trappings and all (I’ve completely avoided any form of cut-up here), the ultimate aim of Retail Island is frustration (to a greater or lesser extent). But hopefully, the brutal violence, gratuitously detailed sex scenes (which are actually integral to the plot as it happens), and explosions will provide enough entertainment to counter the frustration.

Retail Island is published by Clinicality Press on 1 January 2018. It’s available to order now via THIS LINK.

Cover 2 with text v2 copy

Work in Progress: An Excerpt

It’s been a while.

Music reviewing, the day-job, life… all of these factors have conspired to halt any ‘creative’ writing for some time now. The novel and sort story I had been working on ground to a halt, and a certain torpor set in, while I found myself running just to stand still during practically every waking hour. But I decided I needed to get my shit back together and resume writing. It wasn’t easy at first, but I did. Resuming work on the dystopian short story, with the working title ‘Retail Island’, it soon began to expand toward novella territory. In the space of three weeks, 3,000 words has expanded to almost 10,000: it’s a fair way off being finished, and it’s still very much a work in progress in every sense.

To give too much context at this juncture would likely to be to spoil it, and even the plot is still evolving. However, the structure – yes, there is one this time – is something of a return to the episodic form of my work before things shot off the rails in 2008 when I ‘assembled’ THE PLAGIARIST. So, the bare bones: Robert Ashton is hired as a consultant to work on a project at a pharmaceutical company whose office is located on the edge of a large out-of-town retail park. He soon becomes suspicious of the nature of the project and the company’s practices, and things swiftly turn strange and ugly.

An Opening

Saturday, the immense Primark store that had been under wraps and swarming with construction workers and fitters when Robert had landed at the retail park opened its doors to the public. The event was distinguished by queues not only at the checkouts, but in the aisles, on the forecourt as eager shoppers crowded and jostled to gain entry to the vast warehouse packed with sweatshop-manufactured clothing, and in the car parks as shoppers arrived in droves. Long before midday, the retail park’s parking spaces were all occupied, as were those of the neighbouring Asda and Sainsbury’s superstores, and many had simply abandoned their vehicles on the access roads, pavements and verges in and around the development. Robert had only ventured out to WH Smith to purchase a magazine and newspaper in order to sequester himself away in his hotel room for a day of rest, but even this brief excursion swiftly evolved into a major operation as he was forced to navigate by a wildly circuitous route and battle his way through the crowd which had spilled out to occupy a large area of the park.

“Hey!” a large woman in grey sweatpants and a voluminous T-shirt bearing the slogan ‘Whatchoo Lookin at…. Bitch?’ barked as Robert tried to inch his way through a conglomeration of milling shoppers. He glanced up automatically. She seemed to be staring straight at him, but assuming she must have been trying to get the attention of someone behind him, Robert glanced over his shoulder. “Yeah, you,” she said gruffly. “Where d’you fink you’re goin’?”

“I’m sorry?” Robert blinked.

“Yer will be,” she growled in response. “We been ‘ere fuckin’ ages waitin’ t’gerrin, so instead o’ pushin’ frough y’need t’wait yer turn.”

“Oh, right, I see,” Robert said. “In there?” he pointed toward Primark.

“Yeh. We was ‘ere first.”

“Of course. I was just trying to get through to get to WS Smith, I’m not going in there, so…”

“Yeah, fuckin’ right. I’ve ‘eard all kinds of excuses to push frough. ‘Meetin’ a family member. Lost kids. Member o’ staff. One guy even said ‘ee were a fuckin’ medic attendin’ a ‘mergency ‘cause someone’d passed out. As if! Cheeky fucker. So y’reckon I’m gunna buy that you wanna go to Smiffs?”

“But I do,” Robert protested.

“Yeah, fuck off out of it,” the woman snarled, bearing her teeth and revealing numerous gaps.

A burly man wearing similar attire – an England football shirt stretched over his gut – tattoos and shaven head stepped up, bristling. “You ‘eard the lady. Get the fuck out, you cunt.” Robert wasn’t so sure about the status of his antagonist as a lady, but didn’t have time to dwell on that as the thug stepped forward and shoved him hard in the chest. Robert stumbled back and was just able to keep his footing, but knocked into a woman who was trying to steer a pushchair through the dense forest of bodies.

“Excuse me!” she shouted coarsely in a 40-a-day voice.

“I’m sorry.”

“You will be,” she snapped. “You need to look where you’re going!”

Robert tried to explain, but had merely stammered a few unintelligible syllables before another man stepped up beside the woman and began berating him for being a ‘posho cunt’. Before he knew what was happening, Robert found himself knocked to the ground, and a tempest of fists and trainer-toed feet rained blows about his body. He curled himself tightly into a ball, and before long, following a foot to the skull, lost consciousness. The sound of the crowd faded as everything faded to black.

DSC_0029[1]

Rage on the Road: March 2017

It’s been a while. I’m making a brief excusion on the road this coming weekend to vent my spleen in the name of art and entertainment. Dates and details are as folows:

Saturdy 25th March: Leeds – Grove Inn, 8pm.

Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1303715163026276/

Sundat 26th March: York – Fulford Arms, 2.30pm (a matinee show for the mums)

Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/435521376838303/

I will be delivering full 20-minute verbal assaults at both shows.

Dale Prudent will be doing likewise.

We will be joined in Leeds by Joe Williams and Karl Whiting, and by AB Johnson (Stereoscope), John Tuffen (Namke Communications) and Rachel Ross in York.

Brace yourselves.

Taking the Rage off the Page: December 2016 Spoken Word Dates

As is often the case, just when the diary is beginning to look a bit sparse, things happen. There are already things in the pipeline for 2017 – exciting, collaborative things amongst others – and 2016, having been a dismal year on so many levels, will find me back out and yelling at people a couple more times after what’s been my most active year on the spoken word circuit to date.

Two very different events will find me deliverying different sets at opposite ends of York on Saturday December 10th and Sunday December 11th.

The 10th is a fundraiser for Syria, hosted by one of my favourite poetry-writing activists, Laura Munteanu. It’s at the Fulford Arms from 6pm – 8pm. Entry is by donation. There will be a stall, and I will have books on it. ALL proceeds from sales of my books will go to the evening’s nonimated charity, Human Care Syria. The Facebook event page is here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1797569633848781/

The 11th sees the official launch of the Stairwell Books anthology More Exhibitionism. I’m immensely proud, and flattered, to have had a short story selected for inclusion in this prestigious collection. Really, it’s a big deal. I may or may not read ‘Take a Picture’, but I will be performing in the intimate and sometimes intense setting of the conservatoy of The Exhibition pub on Bootham. It’s a 6:30pm start and will be done by 9pm. The Facebook event page is here: https://www.facebook.com/events/199613443778525/

Both events will be ace.

And in other news, the print and ebook edition of The Rage Monologues is available now via all international Amazon outlets and other on-line retailers around the globe.  https://www.amazon.co.uk/RAGE-Monologues-Christopher-Nosnibor/dp/1326822446/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480802810&sr=1-1 

Buy now and get it in time for Christmas. Give it to someone you love. Or maybe someone you hate.

Rage Book Cover copy

Underground / Overground (Again): Taking the Rage Off the Road

I’ve spent most of the last three years purpsefully avoiding publication. It may seem perverse, but there you have it: the idea behind the Rage Monologues was to work on an open-ended project which was about immediacy.

The pieces were penned to be performed in public, and not really to be read in private. The nature of the material and the performance fed into one another synergetically: I wanted to create visceral, raw material to be performed in the most uncompromising, uncomfortable style: each performance was different, with edits being made before each show, meaning the monologues were not fixed, but in constant development, and performed in a fashion which would have an impact. I wasn’t concerned about that impact being positive, and over time, I’ve lost any anxiety about being poorly received: I would rather people walk out in disgust than be impartial or disinterested,  or simply find myself amongst the infinite spoken worders whom audiences would likely consider adequate but forgettable.

Not publishing and keeping the monologues as something which existed only in the moment and in the ether was a deliberate act of rebellion: going offline and making the work available to only a limited audience was  intended to be subversive, a middle finger to globalisation, and ‘the process’: write, publish, tour, or similar. The fact the pieces weren’t published meant the only means by which they were aailable was at performances. A sense of exclusivity so often builds anticipation and can the the key to a cult reputation, and I took the monologues to some substantial audiences at respected – and packed – spoken word nights, wth some major highlights being in Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester.

The rock concert analogy is a fitting one: band shift more merchandise after a strong show: the punters have usually consumed booze and are ‘in the moment’. But ending a set and shuffling off with nothing to sell proved problematic, especially given that as an individual (and , as a writer, a relative unknown) with a full-time job and a young family, my touring actities were – and remain – limited to spoken word night slots in places I could reach, and return from, by train on an evening – and a sale or two afte a performance can go some way to mitigating travel costs, not being a writer who commands ‘guest speaker’ or ‘headline’ slots (and I like it that way, and find ‘guerilla’ appearancs to unsupectin crowds are generally more effective than spouting to a crowd already familiar with my work, which is no way for an author to grow a readership).

And so, while the primary objective of the project remains unchanged, I’m aware that making my work unvailable to practically the entire world is self-defeating. While I would love to perform at evety spkoen word night in every city around the globe, it’s not going to happen. And while going underground as an artistic statement is fine, and keeping things clandestine is cool, rendering one’s work inaccssible and unavilabe can be, to an extent, self-defeating. So this happened: a proper book and e-book, published by Clinicality Press – available at spoken word performances and globally for those who can’t attend live events in the north of England (click on the image to purchase).

Rage Book Cover copy

And if you’d like me to bring the rage to a spoken word night near you, then of course do get in touch…

Rage on the Road – September / October 2016

Following a clutch of well-received, high-octane readings in York and Manchester in June, July, and early August, in which I premiered some new material and collaborated for the first time with master noisemonger Legion of Swine for the first time , offers of slots for reading have been rather thin on the ground. Which means it’s time to revert to guerilla appearances at open mic nights, which is actually something I quite enjoy.

Hijacks planned so far are as follows:

26th September 2016: Fictions of Every Kind @ Wharf Chambers, Leeds. 19:30, £3 entry.

1st October 2016: Open Mic Night @ The Basement, York. 19:30.

More to be announced. Or maybe they’ll just happen…

Meanwhile, there are just five copies of the limited-edition Rage Monologues pamphles left. I must be doing something right. These are priced at £3 and are available only at readings.

 

Rage Cover 2